Farming Families Search for Land

Brazil-farm
Sr. Maria Vagner Souza Silva teaches Biblical Studies in the community of Sâo Joâo Batista in Anapu.

By Sisters Jane Dwyer and Kathryne Webster, SNDdeN

We, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN), follow and walk with the people in Anapu, Brazil. From 1982 until 2005, Sr. Dorothy Stang was herself the Pastoral Land Commission in Anapu. Since her brutal murder, we have been coordinating this work. We accompany farming families as they search for land, respect nature, improve their production and life and their own organization. The right and responsibility to initiate belong to the people with whom we journey.

Since 2005, we have created the Committee in Defense of Anapu (CDA). For the last fifteen years, we have met with this Committee for the entire day on one Saturday each month, to address issues pertaining to the farming families, their needs, problems and threats. The people share their difficulties, reflect together on the causes, make collective and group decisions to change attitudes. Opening each meeting, our SNDdeN role is to provide an initial reflection; we call it a mística. This ecumenical experience helps the people to deepen their values and motivation for sustaining them on this journey.

Workshops in 2020

During 2020, we intend to offer practical workshops, requested by the families, on various ways of planting and cloning cacau in the forest, preparing and planting crops without burning, land homeopathy, the extraction of oils and essences from the forest, economic organization of the rural family, and other activities depending on the year’s
journey. We offer Biblical studies, continually providing spiritual resources for motivation on the journey. We aim to decentralize these workshops by offering them in various sectors of the municipality. There are more than 100 communities and conflict areas in Anapu.

Land Conflict and Organization of People

The land in Anapu is all public and destined for Agrarian Reform. We do not encourage people to occupy new lands but to take back lands that have been usurped, bought and sold illegally. The people work together within the judicial system with the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA). After Sister Dorothy’s assassination, the creation of the defense committee, the CDA, helped families with land conflicts, to settle and win in court. The people occupy the usurped lands or organize groups with clear objectives. This organizing does create a lot of tension, violence and imprisonment in Anapu. The Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) defends families against slaughter, murder and violence. At first, the people needed help with everything, from typing letters, reports, petitions to discovering where to get required help. Today they take the responsibility for organizing themselves, finding the information for their defense, approaching INCRA, and all for public defense.

SNDdeN Presence and Ministry

We continue formation and follow-up through workshops, visits, and seeking financial assistance and defense in the face of threats to life, murders and the constant presence of gun and militias. Since 2015, 19 people in Anapu have been brutally murdered, with three killed in 2019, over land conflicts. Several individuals and many families have fled from Anapu, to escape being murdered. People face the threat of gunmen who have murdered companions and family members and intend to kill others. Farm families and their organization have not yet been able to achieve their goal. Our journey with them in Anapu and the wider Brazilian community becomes clearer to us with time. Our Notre Dame de Namur presence in Anapu is more to inform, influence and open channels against isolation from the outside world.

 

 

 

Good Works March 2020: https://www.sndden.org/who-we-are/good-works-international-magazine/

Kenya faces new health risk as floods, mudslide displace thousands

NAIROBI, KENYA — Catholic leaders in Kenya are appealing for humanitarian support in regions where landslides and floods have displaced thousands, as the country battles increasing cases of the coronavirus.

Church sources said the disasters had left a trail of death and destruction in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya regions, while introducing a new twist in the COVID-19 fight.

At least 4,000 have been displaced in the West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet counties in the Rift Valley in mudslides that have also killed 12 people. In Nyando, part of Kisumu County, an estimated 1,600 people are trapped in villages by floods, according to the sources.

“The parish center, a convent and nearby school are now submerged in water following days of heavy rainfall. The parish priest and nuns had to be evacuated, but the people are still trapped in their homes. They are crying for help. With a canoe, we can evacuate them to safer zones,” Fr. Joachim Omollo, an Apostle of Jesus priest in Kisumu Archdiocese, told Catholic News Service.

“I think all the attention is on COVID-19, but these people need emergency aid. If we don’t act quickly, waterborne disease will soon strike, adding to the burden when the health systems are on the alert over COVID-19,” he said.

The mudslides swept away a main market, a school, a police post and villages. With their homes and houses destroyed, the displaced families have camped in schools and other places on safer grounds.

The government, the Red Cross and churches — including the Catholic Church — have moved to provide some relief, including some food and clothes. County governments are promising to help the displaced people fight COVID-19 by providing water, soap and encouraging social distancing.

Before the landslide, the communities had been observing church and government COVID-19 guidelines, but concerns have emerged that these measures may be difficult to keep, leaving the people exposed to the disease in the new camps.

“We have been discouraging the people from congregating in one place due to the current situation in the country (COVID-19). Many of them have since moved in with relatives,” said Bishop Dominic Kimengich of Eldoret. “We are also there, providing relief to the displaced persons.”

The East African nation’s Catholic bishops and clergy have been urging the people to observe the government’s guidelines. By April 23, Kenya confirmed 320 cases of COVID-19, but the numbers were increasing daily.

 

 

 

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/kenya-faces-new-health-risk-floods-mudslide-displace-thousands

Advocates call attention to pandemic’s wrath on ‘essential’ farmworkers

Farm
Migrant workers clean fields near Salinas, California, March 30. (CNS/Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

WASHINGTON — As those working from home escalated their complaints or jokes on Twitter about Zoom meetings, the United Farm Workers of America offered a reality check March 20 in the form of tweet: “You can’t pick strawberries remotely.”

“The people who put food on our table do not get to telecommute,” the labor organization said in a mid-March statement calling attention to the plight of the country’s more than 2 million farmworkers.

There may be toilet paper shortages in U.S. supermarkets, but the country’s supply of fruit and vegetables and other staples such as meats and dairy produced by the labor of farmworkers — many of them migrants — remains steady thanks to those essential workers. Yet many of them toil without basic protections, their supporters say.

Even while facing lack of access to adequate health care or wages and immigration woes stemming from the H-2A visa program that allows some of them to work legally in the U.S., the largely unseen workers have kept, until now, the country’s food supply moving.

“The irony is that (now) they’re saying they are essential. They’ve always been essential,” said Carlos Marentes, founder and director of the Border Agricultural Workers Center in El Paso, Texas, in an April 14 interview with Catholic News Service.

They’re considered so essential that on April 15, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a temporary easing of immigration regulations to allow businesses to employ them faster and for longer periods of time than before — an unusual move for an administration that has sought to curtail immigration.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the temporary changes would help U.S. farmers who employ foreign farmworkers “avoid disruptions” in employment and “protect the nation’s food supply chain.”

No matter how important they are to the nation, however, there’s always been a “historical abandonment” of farmworkers, Marentes said, and this is a time to go beyond “sentimental blackmail” — offering praise for what farmworkers do, without also calling for protection for their rights.

Even though they’re considered essential workers, a looming threat some farmworkers are facing are efforts to lower their salaries at this critical time. Last year, the Trump administration proposed changes in how wages are calculated for those who use the H-2A visa program, essentially lowering their pay.

The H-2A program is a guest worker program, which allows agricultural employers to bring workers from other countries — primarily Mexico — to the U.S. to work on their farms, said Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“The workers who produce our food are essential workers (roughly 2.5 million agricultural laborers total), and they have been declared so. Yet there are announcements from the White House about reducing the wages of guest workers,” she said in an April 14 email to CNS. “This is unjust to further exploit a population that is working to put food on people’s tables at this time.”

And many of them are scared, said Marentes.

As cities around the country — and the businesses that propelled them — began closing down abruptly in mid-March, farmworkers were told to continue toiling because they were important to keep the country moving. But because of stricter measures taken at border towns such as El Paso, Texas, those who worked in the U.S. but lived in Mexico could no longer cross at entry points as they had before to be with their families after their work shifts were over, Marentes said.

Organizations that work with the farmworker population, such as the Border Agricultural Worker Center, began mobilizing, writing letters for the farmworkers so they could carry documents with them saying who they were, where they worked, in case immigration or other authorities scrutinized them on their way to work, Marentes said. Community groups, like Marentes’ organization, also scrambled to secure some form of shelter and a place for them to bathe, find face masks and gloves, and give them a quick lesson on how to keep safe in the middle of a pandemic.

 

 

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/advocates-call-attention-pandemics-wrath-essential-farmworkers

On Earth Day, Pope Francis urges solidarity with most vulnerable

Earth Day
Pope Francis speaks at his general audience in the apostolic library April 22, 2020. Credit: Vatican Media

– Commenting on the celebration of Earth Day during his general audience Wednesday, Pope Francis urged people to show solidarity with the weak and vulnerable and to protect humanity’s common home.

According to Pope Francis, Earth Day “is an occasion for renewing our commitment to love and care for our common home and for the weaker members of our human family.”

“As the tragic coronavirus pandemic has taught us, we can overcome global challenges only by showing solidarity with one another and embracing the most vulnerable in our midst,” the pope said April 22.

He called for a renewed sense “of sacred respect for the earth, for it is not just our home but also God’s home,” adding that “this should make us all the more aware that we stand on holy ground.”

“In this Easter season of renewal, let us pledge to love and esteem the beautiful gift of the earth, our common home, and to care for all members of our human family,” Francis urged.

“Like the brothers and sisters that we are, let us together implore our heavenly Father: ‘Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.’”

Pope Francis delivered his weekly catechesis via livestream from the Vatican’s apostolic library, saying selfishness had led people to fail in their responsibility “to be guardians and stewards of the earth.”

“We have sinned against the earth, against our neighbours, and ultimately against the Creator, the benevolent Father who provides for everyone, and desires us to live in communion and flourish together,” he stated.

Being made in the image of God, he said, means “we are called to have care and respect for all creatures, and to offer love and compassion to our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable among us, in imitation of God’s love for us, manifested in his Son Jesus, who made Himself man to share this situation with us and to save us.”

Francis said there was a Spanish saying that “God forgives always; we men forgive sometimes; the earth never forgives.”

“The earth never forgives: if we have despoiled the earth, the response will be very bad,” the pope commented.

Pope Francis also noted his appreciation for national and local environmental movements which “appeal to our consciences,” though he said it will still “be necessary for our children to take to the streets to teach us the obvious: we have no future if we destroy the very environment that sustains us.”

“We can each contribute in our own small way,” he encouraged.

The pope also urged awareness and cooperation on the international level, calling on leaders to guide preparations for the upcoming conferences COP15 on Biodiversity in Kunming, China, and COP26 on Climate Change in Glasgow, Scotland.

“These two meetings are very important,” he said.

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/on-earth-day-pope-francis-urges-solidarity-with-most-vulnerable-77334

On Earth Day’s 50th anniversary, bees buzz with hope for California sisters

beekeeping 7 CROP
Sr. Barbara Hagel with a frame from one of her hives on the property of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose in Fremont, California. All of the bees in a hive are genetically related to the queen, making all of the worker bees sisters. (Melanie Lidman)

FREMONT, CALIFORNIA — A few times a week, Sr. Barbara Hagel of the Dominican Sisters of the Queen of the Holy Rosary suits up in a very different type of veil, a mesh facemask that zips to a large white jacket known as a bee suit. Carefully, she reaches in to check on one of the 13 beehives on her property. As she pulls out a frame of honeycomb, it vibrates with bees, a frenetic mass of activity shimmering in black and gold.

Hagel said it can be a spiritual moment, the first glimpse of the bees dancing over honeycomb cells.

“I’m constantly in awe of what I see and what is happening with the bees, and how the more I learn, the more I think about how God made this so incredibly complex and beautiful,” said Hagel, who serves as the Care of Creation and Sustainability coordinator for her congregation, which is also referred to as the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose.

The world celebrates Earth Day on April 22 in the shadow of a global pandemic. This year is the 50th anniversary of the original Earth Day celebrations that birthed the modern environmental movement, though the realities of the COVID-19 outbreak will push most of the celebrations and demonstrations online.

With the widespread collapse of bee colonies and the danger this poses for ecosystems, beekeepers are a small but essential part of the larger fight against climate change.

 

 

 

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/environment/news/earth-days-50th-anniversary-bees-buzz-hope-california-sisters

 

Our common home needs you on the frontline today

Earth
Students and activists hold placards with messages as they participate in a Global Climate Strike rally in New Delhi Sept. 20, 2019. (CNS/Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis)

COVID-19 has put the brakes on life as we know it. Travel and regular strolls (outside and in the supermarket) are the first to leave everyone’s itineraries. Uncertainty and foregoing daily activities has caused a lot of sleepless nights as we helplessly and radically change our lifestyles to stop the pandemic.

That is not to say that quarantines have made our lives completely miserable. After all, adapting is common nature to humans. Generally speaking, families are having meals together again, those who can work from home are now a little more tech-savvy, and people are more in touch with a slower pace of life.

But would this be the same story for those less fortunate?

Those from low socio-economic backgrounds and the elderly are hit twice as hard. After all, the pandemic is more than a public health issue – it’s a social justice issue, too.

Quarantines are only bearable if one has a stable job that can be done from the comfort of home, if one has emergency savings for basic necessities, if one has a job they can continue or return to.

When community quarantine was imposed in the Philippines, hundreds of thousands of people living below the poverty line had no other choice but to fight for rationed food. Some risked being infected or arrested because staying at home would mean their family not eating for weeks. For those less fortunate, the question in their head is: “How will I exist?”

In many ways COVID-19 is just like another existential threat – climate change. Both global issues create unprecedented adverse impacts to public health and society. Both issues have the ability to crumple global economies. Neither issue discriminates in selecting victims. But its short and long-term impacts definitely discriminate based on social class. And most importantly, both issues are at the mercy of human intervention aimed at reducing the spread of infection and emissions.

To protect the vulnerable from COVID-19 and climate change, we have to change the way we work and live. Fortunately, putting others before ourselves is paramount in Catholic teaching.

In 2015, Pope Francis penned “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” which challenged every Christian to experience an ecological conversion. He challenged us to “hear the cries of the earth and the cries of the poor” — an intentional prioritization to ease the suffering of the most vulnerable in society.

All of us are suffering but some are suffering more because they started with less to begin with. Most of us privileged enough to work from home must listen to the cries of the poor in the face of the virus and climate change. To secure an intergenerational solution to the two existential threats we currently face, Pope Francis’ challenge rings true: “We require a new and universal solidarity.… All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.”

Perhaps this quarantine is a restart to a changed lifestyle that turns its back on  the “throwaway culture” that is built on reckless accumulation.

Perhaps this quarantine is the opportune renewal of a global ‘new normal’ in the way we treat our neighbours and our common home. After all, the science is clear: we have until 2030 to halve our emissions if we were to keep global warming well below 1.5 degrees.

So, what will your ecological conversion look like? What part of your “lockdown lifestyle” must remain post-lockdown in order to help us continue to reduce our emissions? Can you do with less flying? Would growing your own food be a suitable alternative? Could giving to charities targeted at sustaining the poor, children, and the elderly be part of your budget so that we can all recover from this unprecedented downturn together and with dignity?

With climate action as the central theme of Earth Day’s 50th anniversary on April 22, let’s all join digital campaigns on social media. If you are in the Philippines, let others into your bubble by posting a photo of your household’s road to zero waste. In New Zealand, Zoom workshops and seminars on creating our “new normal” are plenty. Climate action groups such as Generation Zero are also posting submission guidelines on infrastructure projects that align with a low emissions future. Despite the community quarantine, let’s not forget that everyday is Earth Day.

Turning a blind eye or drowning out the cries of the poor and our common home is not an option anymore. Just as the present crisis demands foresight and prompt action, climate change demands that we respond now to avert future catastrophe.

Pope Francis, scientists, doctors, essential workers, and our common home need all of us to be at the frontline.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/our-common-home-needs-you-frontline-today

Pakistani taxi drivers give free rides to Spanish health workers

Divers
Like all drivers, Sheraz Syed wears a masks and gloves, and uses hand sanitiser regularly while at work [Sheraz Syed/Al Jazeera]

Barcelona, Spain – When Sheraz Syed returns home from his working day, he cannot hug his three children or his wife, because of the coronavirus.

Being a taxi driver these days is a high-risk job. But on top of his regular work, along with 195 Pakistanis in Barcelona, he provides free rides to healthcare staff in the city.

The initiative started at the beginning of Spain’s lockdown, in mid-March, as six Pakistani taxi drivers led by Shahbaz Ahmed discussed how medical workers would be able to return at night to their homes.

Since then, their effort has expanded to about 200 volunteers, including some drivers from other nationalities.

They started by sharing their contact details with hospitals and organised their schedules to cover the city centre and more remote facilities, such as the Can Ruti Hospital.

“Medical staff work too many hours and we saw that they were going to their jobs using public transport,” said Asim Gondal, a driver volunteering his services.

“For this reason, as they are working on the frontline for humanity, we began this service also to save them more time and, in this way, they don’t spend it on public transport.”

Gondal and his family have lived in Barcelona for about 20 years and Spain, he said, a country he now considers home.

“This is a difficult time for Spain,” he said.

About 43,000 Pakistanis live in Barcelona, and almost 89,000 in Spain overall, according to the Spanish Statistical Office.

The drivers follow preventive measures: they wear masks, gloves and have disinfectant gel in their cars.

None of the people in the group have the virus, but there have been previous cases of Pakistani taxi drivers with COVID-19.

Five are reported to be recovering in hospital.

“It’s frightening when your workmate is at the hospital. Some are my friends and they have eaten in my house,” said Syed. “There is always a risk.”

In an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB) has limited taxi traffic to 20 percent each day and each driver is allowed to work once a week.

“We will provide this service until we can,” said Gondal.

Like many in Spain, which is facing a severe economic downturn as thousands have been laid off, the coronavirus outbreak has impacted the drivers’ personal finances.

“We don’t have any economic help from the government and only self-employed workers are able to work, the rest have been fired,” claimed Syed.

This has impacted their personal protection; not all taxi drivers can afford a screen to separate them from their passengers.

In addition to the taxi drivers’ inititative, over the past two weeks, the local Pakistani community has stepped in to help.

Grocery store owners have converted industrial warehouses into spaces taxi drivers can use to organise food parcel distribution to the homeless and families in need.

Hundreds of masks and robes for medical workers are being sewn together at pace at the the Catalan Islamic Cultural Centre.

More than 15,000 people have died from the coronavirus in Spain since the start of the epidemic, and there have been more than 152,000 cases overall.

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/pakistani-taxi-drivers-give-free-rides-spanish-health-workers-200408120354440.html